left on walnut

Category: Family

Open letter to a sailor

We had a family tragedy in October, when a sister died, leaving our nephew without parents. He’s 22 years old, in the Navy, deployed in the Pacific. Ships go weeks at a time where sailors cannot contact family members. It’s hard, on both sailors and families. Here is my open letter to Quaid, our sailor, in one of the most difficult of weeks.


January 22, 2017

Dear Quaid,

Not one day goes by I don’t think about you and hope you and your shipmates are safe during your deployment on the USS Carl Vinson. I’m packing a care package for you, with something inside for Christian as well. I remember you said you might pull into port by mid-February. We are trying to be patient as we wait to hear from you.

I wonder if you received any news of the inauguration? Trump was sworn in Friday. Whenever you come to port, wherever that is, you will be setting foot into a world that is different from any you have known. His speech set a tone heard around the world:

          This American carnage stops right here and stops right now….

          We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first — America first….

Within moments, the White House website changed. Gone were pages confirming LGBT rights. Gone were pages helping citizens with disabilities. Gone were pages on climate change. Gone were pages on healthcare and civil rights.

Then, on the day following the inauguration, millions marched through cities on every single continent. Yes, even Antarctica. What started as a Women’s March on Washington turned into a global march in protest of this President and his administration. The news is saying it was the largest protest in history. Marches were held in every major city in the US, in numbers that shut down parts of the cities. Washington DC, the center of it all, had an estimated 500,000 people, three times the number attending the inauguration itself. Every major city, from London to Los Angeles, Paris to Chicago, Melbourne to Denver to Seattle.

On that same day, as people protested around the world, Trump launched two new direct attacks on the press. For those who know history, silencing the press is an ominous sign.

Some conservative friends are trying to back up a bit, saying he wasn’t really their candidate! They try to reassure their Facebook friends they really are nice people! Why, they do good things all the time! Yet, they go to bed every night, tucked safely into their white privilege, unaffected by their vote.

I spent the day in a seminar learning how to make the voices of resistance heard. Organizationally, it’s all about showing up, speaking articulately on specific national issues at the local level. It’s about getting our elected officials to represent all of his or her constituents. It’s about forming a more perfect union, despite the odds just now.

My dear Quaid, I open my emails every day hoping you had a little window of Wi-Fi so you could let your family hear you are OK. Your family is surrounding you with prayers for your safety and for the safety of everyone on the ship.

Fair winds and safe seas. We love you, Quaid. Your mother would be most proud. 

Love, Kay



Cousin Dee

dee-ann-editMy cousin, Dee Ann, passed away suddenly in October. We grew up in the same small town in Indiana. I had no brothers or sisters, so my cousins meant everything to me. This was half a century ago in rural Indiana, in the 50’s and 60’s. The front yard was the baseball field and the sand box was in the back. Grandma Neva lived in the house trailer beyond that. Dad taught us how to tie a lure to our fishing line and he taught us how to cast. We had a merry-go-round and rope swings and a teeter-totter and a tree house or two. Our moms wanted us out of the house. So the cousins played outside a lot.

After Dee moved to California, I lost track of her. We fell out of touch. Life got in the way. It wasn’t until this year that I figured out how to find her. I contacted her son through Facebook and he told me Dee’s phone number. Dee and I started texting. A couple times after her death, I’ve reread those texts. They stop in April, because we started calling and that was better. Still, having more texts to reread would be nice right now. On the phone, we talked about her son, mostly. He was her everything.

In one of our phone calls, Dee reminded me of a time I was baby-sitting her. I’d forgotten this ever happened, but Dee remembered.

I was eight years older than Dee Ann. This made me prime baby-sitter material. I was sitting for Dee and a friend of hers. They were maybe 7 or 8 at the time. That night, one of those huge Midwestern thunderstorms came rolling in. The kind where lightening strikes, and you can see it out over the prairie. Then you count how many seconds until you hear the thunder. That tells you how many miles away the storm is. Then the skies open up and water just pours.

The little girls were scared, screaming and running around, crawling under the bed. So I invited them to come out on the front porch with me. I don’t know how I knew to do that. Perhaps from my own dad. Out on the porch, we could see the lightning. Count the seconds. Reach our hands out from under the roof and get wet. Sit on the porch step and stick our bare legs out into the rain.

Pretty soon, they weren’t afraid any more. We’d seen the rain and thunder for what it is: the beauty in those bolts of lightening, the water that will wash us clean.

Dee reminded me, earlier this year, of our night on the porch so long ago.

This October, Dee died sitting in her favorite chair on her front porch. I’d say that’s a good thing. Out on the porch, you can face down any fears you might have. No hiding under covers. Out on the porch, you see the beauty in those bolts of the lightning. Then count the seconds, without fear, as the sky opens up and the splendor surrounds you.



When I first started gardening, I purchased a hoe like Uncle Raymond’s. A metal stirrup attached to a long wooden handle. His garden was the best I’ve seen. A little square of Eden, right in the back yard. He knew garden tools. My new hoe didn’t make my garden like  Uncle Raymond’s though.

I don’t know what happened to that hoe. I probably didn’t take care of it. As I’ve gotten older, I take better care of my tools. Dad taught me a lot about tools and machines and how they work.

Dad didn’t hang his tools just so. They might be on a pegboard or they might not. Maybe in the red tool box. Blades were always sharp, though. I have the stone he gave me to sharpen my knives with. Today I took apart my Felco pruners and used it to sharpen the blade.

Easter, 1958

Easter 1958I was lucky. I got a lot hand-me-downs from my cousin, Carol.

Why my dad would no longer vote Republican

Dad was quiet. He was born, lived, and died all within a five mile radius in rural Indiana. He served in the Philippines during World War II and placed his hand over his heart when the Star Spangled Banner played. He expected me to do the same.

Dad voted Republican. But he would be shamed by the Republican party now.

When Dad came home from the Philippines, wounded in action, he didn’t sign up for Veterans’ benefits. “I live in a country that’s free. Guess that makes us even.” In his eyes, if we were capable of contributing, it was our duty to do so. Did you know that during Reagan’s first term, the top tax rate was 50%? During the Nixon administration, it was 70%. Dad wouldn’t understand why the rich now pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.

Back home from the war, Dad gave away his hunting rifle because he had no more killing in him. Eisenhower told the nation that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” Republican and NRA-backed measures supporting concealed weapons and assault rifles would sadden my father.

When asked if we’re our brother’s keeper, the answer was always, “Yes.”  So we planted more garden than we needed and gave away vegetables. Did you know Eisenhower supported a higher minimum wage and expanded unemployment benefits? Dad would be disgraced by the Republicans’ stand against the Affordable Care Act.

Sometimes we fished together. I could throw over the crust of my sandwich so the fish could eat. But we could never have thrown the wax paper the sandwich was wrapped in. It wouldn’t have occurred to us. Care for the Slough was second nature. We had a moral obligation to care for our environment. Did you know that Nixon proposed the EPA? Dad would be shamed to know that Republicans are silent on issues of clean energy, disgraced that they denounce the science of climate change.

His only daughter, I always felt precious in Dad’s eyes. I’m certain he never used the words “legitimate” and “rape” in the same sentence. He would be angry that Republicans would take away women’s rights to make their own health choices.

Sometimes I hear people say, “I am Republican” as if they were born that way and cannot change. Thoughtful people, though, listen carefully and make up their minds that way. Thoughtful people change over time.

What Children Learn in India

Everywhere in India, my daughter drew a crowd of kids. They wanted to know where she was from, when she got to India, and how long she’d stay. They wanted to know what she was doing there and if she went to college. They wanted to know what she thought of India. Parents clustered outside the circle, waiting and sometimes listening while their children met this new person.



They took family photos with her.




Then we’d all look at the photos together.




Sometimes, they just looked at her, this new and different person. Open inquisitiveness with new people is valued. Kids expected that Katie wanted to meet them just as much as they wanted to meet her. Children learn people are good and differences interesting. Children learn privacy may matter, but not more than having family and friends nearby and inviting new people into our lives.

Children learn the life-affirming goodness of people.



Honest and Faithful Service to this Country

Bill Printy only finished eighth grade. Then he was needed on the farm. In 1941 he enlisted in the Army. Later that year, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Bill fought in the Philippines and then New Guinea. He earned the expert infantry badge and the combat infantry badge. I suspect his boyhood of hunting squirrels and rabbits for food was helpful in this regard. He earned the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, three battle stars; the America Defense Service Ribbon, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon, and two more battle stars.

Bill talked little about the Island of Corregidor or Manila Bay. He rarely spoke of Bataan, where he was wounded.

Bill would, however, talk about the New Guinea natives. Their bellies distended over grass skirts. Their little huts. Babies sleeping in slings hung on low limbs as their mothers worked their gardens nearby. The special grass hut for religious ceremonies or worship. The enviable callouses on their feet allowing them to walk across cinders that would cut the tender feet of the boys from the States.

“Some people called them savages. But they were growing food, singing, rocking their babies, worshiping. We were halfway across the world, shooting up their island. Sounds like we were the savage ones to me.”

When Bill was released from Wakeman Convalescent Hospital at Camp Atterbury, he returned to the farm. He gave away his hunting rifle.

Milking Eleanor

Weather-worn doors slid open on Pop Printy’s Indiana barn. Light shone through cracks between boards and dust would suspend in each slant of light. Spider webs shrouded the windows.

The cow’s name was Eleanor. Barn cats clustered when Eleanor was milked, hoping for a shot at warm milk. Pop would pour a little milk into an aluminum pie plate for the cats, or sometimes squirt a bit right from the cow into a cat’s mouth. Milk was stored in pails in a milk house, down a hole in the ground to keep it cool. I wasn’t allowed to play in the milk house, for fear I’d fall down the hole.

In the house, Mom poured fresh milk into bottles and let cream rise to the top. She skimmed off the cream and made butter and sour cream. She made buttermilk, too, for biscuits. Not much was on that farm that wasn’t homemade.

I still make buttermilk and sour cream like Mom Printy:

  • My sour cream jar holds around a cup, I’d say. I pour about a quarter cup of buttermilk in the jar and then fill the jar with cream. I stir it a bit and then cover the jar with a clean cloth and set the jar in a warm place for a day or so.
  • My buttermilk jar holds two cups. I pour maybe a half cup of buttermilk into the jar and fill it the rest of the way with milk. Buttermilk needs to sit in a warm place for a day or two just like the sour cream. You can start with buttermilk from the store, but be sure to buy the kind that has actual cultures in it.

top right drawer

Some of what I have learned about photography:

  1. Light is tricky. I think I have enough but when I look at photos later on the computer, they can still seem dull.
  2. My lens works better when not at full zoom. When the lens is way out there, photos are not crisp.
  3. Some of the best photos with this lens are shot at f 8.0 or so, rather than at the extreme stops. I don’t know why. Could be user error.
  4. My time as a photographer: 30% reading how-to blogs, watching instructional videos online, and reading the manual; 30% arranging stuff and lights; 30% messing with photos in Lightroom; 2% taking photos; and 8% making Tom come look at the photos I’ve taken. He’s wonderful. He always finds something nice to say.

Here’s stuff in the top right drawer of my daughters’ dresser:

the top left drawer

My kids have been out of the house a long time. Both girls went to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy so moved away when they were 14 or so.

Their stuff seems to be here forever.

Here’s the top left drawer of their dresser: